Legislating sustainable development Costa Rican style

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


International Studies

First Committee Member

Stuart Corbridge - Committee Chair


Costa Rica is a trailblazer among poorer countries when it comes to its pursuit of sustainable development. Prominent in this regard, this country's Forest Law of 1996 and Biodiversity Law of 1998 are impressive efforts to manage ecosystems and genetic and biochemical resources in a manner that balances ecological, economic, social and democracy-building goals. And these two laws have brought important dividends, such as encouraging preservation on private lands, channeling funds to poor rural communities, and democratizing institutions that regulate forestry and bioprospecting. The texts of these two policies were analyzed, and interviewing of participants in the development of these laws and the study of the proceedings of Costa Rica's Legislative Assembly were relied upon in collecting data on their formulation. The examination of this rich qualitative data allowed for a detailed characterization of the actors and structuring forces on the domestic as well as international levels that impact upon contemporary Costa Rican environmental law-making. While these empirical understandings falsified some of the propositions of the hypotheses, they were more important in fleshing out and filling in the gaps between the other propositions. Even though the discovery of highly complicated formulation processes points toward the uniqueness of each instance of environmental policy-making, it was possible to discern some characteristics in common between the development of the two laws in question. These shared qualities were compared to existing scholarship on environmental policy-making in Costa Rica, indicating how future research on this subject can continue to progress, such as by being aware of dangerous assumptions and keeping in mind certain likely policy-making scenarios. These commonalities, such as significantly democratic processes, were also presented as a roadmap for other developing countries wishing to achieve similar laws. Finally, in the hopes of inspiring valuable research, worrisome implementation failures associated with the Forest Law of 1996 and the Biodiversity Law of 1998 were summarized.


Political Science, International Law and Relations; Political Science, Public Administration; Environmental Sciences

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